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Articles > Fundraising Ideas > How has COVID changed school giving - and what lessons can we take away for the future?

How has COVID changed school giving - and what lessons can we take away for the future?

Development consultant James Underhill reflects on the ToucanTech Schools Report based on his recent experience with school clients

Development consultant James Underhill reflects on his recent experience with school clients and shares his views on insights from the ToucanTech Schools Report.

"While we may all still be too raw to see Covid generally as anything other than a nightmare, the Toucan Tech Schools Report 2020 provides an opportunity to look objectively at its effects on fundraising. And the effects are instructive.

With the benefit of an impressive dataset (nearly one million records), the report delves below the superficial finding that 2020 school fundraising income was 20% down on 2019 levels. Yes, we all expected this, but I think the fact that schools managed to bring in 80% of their ‘normal’ income in such strange times is encouraging. It is also good to see that so many schools responded to the pandemic by increasing their comms, and so successfully. 

Looking more specifically at the fundraising data, I believe there are some important conclusions to be drawn. From the report, it appears that in 2019, 75% of the nearly £8.5M raised from the subject schools came from just 4% of the overall donor constituency (these were donations of £5K and above). In 2020, donations of £5K or more accounted for 72% of the total and came in from just 2.5% of the constituency. So, it was business as usual as far as major donor fundraising was concerned?  Well, not quite.  Yes, the stats are strikingly similar, and they tell the same important story that major donor fundraising is critically important. But I think it is worth examining how it was possible to bring in a respectable amount of major donations against the backdrop of Covid.

From my experience, one good that the ill wind of Covid blew was a new-found ability to cut to the chase with donor prospects. We had to forego the dinners and slow courtship dances of traditional donor cultivation. But the almost-war-like footing of Covid provided us fundraisers with the perfect excuse to accelerate to the ask.  And, as far as older donors were concerned, there was a sense that the young needed help. This is borne out by the report, which highlights an increase in giving from the 60 – 70 age group.

Some schools chose to put fundraising on hold but half of the 124 subject schools chose instead to use Covid as a fundraising call to arms.  And from my experience, whether it was buildings or bursaries, business-oriented donors appreciated the fact that schools were looking to the future and being ambitious and optimistic.

‘Cutting to the chase’ sounds a bit glib, and it would take several paragraphs to outline what this meant in practice. Suffice to say well-conceived online events seemed to work. More importantly, preparing the pitch and picking up the phone worked better. Better still, direct contact with the Head did the trick in many instances I witnessed.

It will be interesting to see how the 2021 figures look with Toucan Tech’s next report. A V-shaped depression? A ‘U’, a ‘W’?  Who knows?  But the data as a whole will help us determine whether or not to revert to the old normal in fundraising.  My hunch is that we cannot quite go back to where we were. In a way, Covid has united us. We all feel that life is short and precarious and that ambition and optimism are antidotes to gloom.  We should use this unity to our advantage in our cultivation of donors and in our comms."

Thanks to James Underhill, development consultant & founder of Underhill Associates, for authoring this article. Underhill Associates specialise in fundraising, marketing and communications for schools and charities. Combining their experience with client resources, they provide a tailored mix of strategy, mentoring and hands-on work to achieve cost-effective results. To find out more, visit their website. 

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